Sudanese army faces widening opposition to coup as nightly protests pick up

KHARTOUM (Reuters) -The Sudanese army faces widening opposition to this week’s coup with the U.N. Security Council on Thursday urging the restoration of the civilian-led transitional government and activists in Sudan mobilizing for protests this weekend.

The takeover, led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan on Monday against a civilian government, has brought thousands of people on to the streets to reject a return of military rule and demand a transition towards civilian rule be put back on track.

Witnesses told Reuters they saw security forces use live and rubber bullets against protesters in Bahri, across the river from the capital, Khartoum, as nightly protests began to pick up.

The Security Council expressed serious concern about the takeover and urged all parties to exercise maximum restraint and engage in dialogue without pre-conditions.

In a statement, agreed by consensus, the 15-member body also called for the immediate release of all those who have been detained by the military.

The coup brought an end to a shaky transitional set-up intended to lead to elections in 2023 by sharing power between civilians and the military following the fall of Omar al-Bashir, whom the army deposed after a popular uprising two years ago.

It has been met with broad condemnation from Western governments including the United States which threw diplomatic and financial weight behind the transition and has frozen aid since the coup.

In a statement posted on Facebook overnight, ministries and agencies of Sudan’s most populous state, Khartoum, which includes the capital and twin city Omdurman, said they would not step aside or hand over their duties.

They declared a general strike, joining unions in sectors such as healthcare and aviation, although they said they would continue to supply flour, cooking gas and emergency medical care.

The main market, banks and filling stations in Khartoum were still closed on Thursday. Hospitals were providing only emergency services. Smaller shops were open, but there were long queues for bread.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken tweeted overnight that he had spoken by phone to Foreign Minister Mariam Sadiq al-Mahdi.

Blinken said he condemned the arrest of civilian leaders in Sudan and discussed with Mahdi “how the U.S. can best support the Sudanese people’s call for a return to civilian-led transition to democracy”.

A U.N. official urged Burhan to start a dialogue with ousted Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and offered to facilitate a political settlement.

A statement issued by the office of U.N. special representative to Sudan Volker Perthes did not say how Burhan had responded to the offer made at a meeting on Wednesday.

Perthes urged Burhan to deescalate the situation.

Hamdok, initially held at Burhan’s residence, was allowed to return home under guard on Tuesday. A source close to him said he remains committed to a civilian democratic transition and the goals of the revolt that toppled Bashir.

BURHAN IGNORED WARNINGS

The toll of people killed in clashes with security forces since Monday climbed to eight, with a 22-year-old man dying of gunshot wounds, a medical source said. Opponents fear the army-led authorities could deploy more force.

The source close to Hamdok said the prime minister had called for the military to avoid violence against protesters.

Opponents of the coup have been handing out fliers calling for a “march of millions” on Saturday against military rule, falling back on old methods of mobilization with the authorities restricting the use of internet and phones.

The protest is being called under the slogan “Leave!” used in the protests that brought down Bashir.

Since the anti-Bashir uprising, protests have been organized through neighborhood committees that can mobilize locally without access to the internet or to major roads closed by security forces.

Sudan has been in the midst of a deep economic crisis with record inflation and shortages of basic goods, which only recently showed signs of possible improvement helped by aid that major Western donors say will end unless the coup is reversed.

More than half the population is living in poverty and child malnutrition stands at 38%, according to the United Nations.

Burhan’s move reasserted the army’s dominant role in Sudan since independence in 1956, after weeks of mounting tension between the military and civilians in the transitional government over issues including whether to hand Bashir and others over to The Hague where they are wanted for war crimes.

Burhan has said he acted to stop the country slipping into civil war and has promised elections in July 2023.

Western envoys had warned Burhan that assistance, including a now frozen $700 million in U.S. aid and $2 billion from the World Bank, would cease if he took power. Sources said he ignored those warnings under pressure from inside the military and with a “green light” from Russia.

(Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz in Khartoum and Nafisa Eltahir in Cairo; Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Peter Graff and Nick Macfie)

North Korea developing nuclear, missile programs in 2021 -U.N. report

By Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – North Korea continued developing its nuclear and ballistic missile programs during the first half of 2021 in violation of international sanctions and despite the country’s worsening economic situation, according to an excerpt of a confidential United Nations report seen by Reuters on Friday.

The report by a panel of independent sanctions monitors to the U.N. Security Council North Korea sanctions committee said Pyongyang “continued to seek material and technology for these programs overseas.”

“Despite the country’s focus on its worsening economic travails, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea continued to maintain and develop its nuclear and ballistic missile programs,” the sanctions monitors concluded.

North Korea is formally known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). North Korea’s mission to the United Nations in New York did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the U.N. report.

The isolated Asian nation imposed a strict lockdown last year amid the coronavirus pandemic that has slashed its trade and aid access, hurting an economy already burdened by international sanctions.

In June, leader Kim Jong Un said the country faced a “tense” food situation and much would depend on this year’s harvests.

“Statements made by DPRK suggested a deepening humanitarian crisis in the country, although the COVID-19 blockade means that the relative impact of sanctions on the humanitarian situation has probably decreased,” the U.N. monitors wrote.

“With trade all but stopped by the blockade, and last year’s harvest badly affected by floods, the current prospects of the wider DPRK population are poor,” they said.

North Korea has been subjected to U.N. sanctions since 2006 over its nuclear and ballistic missile programs. The Security Council has steadily strengthened sanctions in a bid to cut off funding for the programs.

Among the sanctions imposed are a ban on the export of coal and other commodities and the import of oil.

“Maritime exports from DPRK of coal and other sanctioned commodities continued, but at a much reduced level. The import of oil products reported to the panel fell substantially in the first half of the year,” according to the U.N. report.

Pyongyang also continued to access international financial institutions and North Korean workers continued to earn money overseas for use in state programs, said the U.N. sanctions monitors, adding: “Officials overseas continued to feel pressure to develop revenue streams.”

The monitors said they were continuing to investigate North Korea’s involvement in global cyber activity and collaboration by North Korean academics and universities with scientific institutes abroad, “focusing on studies with potential applications in WMD (weapons of mass destruction) programs.”

The U.N. sanctions monitors have previously reported that North Korea has stolen hundreds of millions of dollars using cyberattacks.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Mark Potter)

U.N. says Afghan war has entered ‘deadlier and more destructive phase’

By Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) -The U.N. special envoy for Afghanistan on Friday questioned the Taliban’s commitment to a political settlement, telling the U.N. Security Council the war has entered a “deadlier and more destructive phase” with more than 1,000 civilians killed in the past month during a Taliban offensive.

“A party that was genuinely committed to a negotiated settlement would not risk so many civilian casualties, because it would understand that the process of reconciliation will be more challenging, the more blood is shed,” Deborah Lyons said.

The Taliban has stepped up its campaign to defeat the U.S.-backed government since April as foreign forces complete their withdrawal after 20 years of war. The Taliban captured an Afghan provincial capital and assassinated the government’s top media officer in Kabul on Friday.

“This is now a different kind of war, reminiscent of Syria, recently, or Sarajevo, in the not-so-distant past,” Lyons said.

“To attack urban areas is to knowingly inflict enormous harm and cause massive civilian casualties. Nonetheless, the threatening of large urban areas appears to be a strategic decision by the Taliban, who have accepted the likely carnage that will ensue,” she said.

She said the United Nations expected both irregular and legal migration numbers to double this year.

Peace talks between the Afghan government and Taliban negotiators started last year in the Qatari capital of Doha, but have not made any substantive progress.

Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told the council that the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan was of increasing concern and “with the withdrawal of foreign forces, the outlook looks grim.”

“The prospects of Afghanistan slipping into full scale and protracted civil war, unfortunately, is a stark reality,” Nebenzia said.

CONSEQUENCES

Britain’s U.N. Ambassador Barbara Woodward said the council “should leave the Taliban in no doubt that there will be consequences for them if they continue to pursue this military offensive” and pledged that Britain would not recognize a Taliban government that comes to power by force.

The U.N. Security Council has the ability to impose targeted sanctions on Taliban individuals or entities who constitute a threat to the peace, stability and security of Afghanistan.

Senior U.S. diplomat Jeffrey DeLaurentis urged the Taliban to halt its offensive, pursue a political settlement and protect Afghanistan’s infrastructure and people.

“The Taliban must hear from the international community that we will not accept a military takeover of Afghanistan or a return of the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate,” he said.

Foreign forces aim to be completely out of Afghanistan by Sept. 11. U.S.-backed Afghan forces ousted the Taliban from power in 2001 for refusing to hand over al Qaeda’s Osama bin Laden after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

Deputy Chinese U.N. Ambassador Dai Bing said foreign forces withdrawing from Afghanistan should be “more transparent with regional countries and avoid leaving behind all the problems and wash their hands of them.”

“The U.S. recently expressed its intention to assist Afghanistan in maintaining stability. We hope that the U.S. can earnestly fulfill its commitment and step up efforts,” Dai told the council.

Afghanistan’s U.N. Ambassador Ghulam Isaczai urged the Security Council to act to “prevent a catastrophic situation.” He told reporters after the meeting that he was confident the Afghan army could withstand the Taliban offensive and that the country was not yet in a civil war.

“We have a six months security plan to stabilize the situation. And not only that, we have seen an outpouring of support from communities and villages that were recently attacked by the Taliban … so we have a lot of interest among the population to support the army,” he said.

(Reporting by Michelle NicholsEditing by Dan Grebler and Mark Potter)

Some 40 bodies found in Myanmar jungle after army crackdown -U.N. envoy

A Myanmar soldier stands near Maungdaw, north of Rakhine state, Myanmar September 27, 2017. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

(Reuters) -A Myanmar militia force fighting the army in a central part of the country and residents have found at least 40 bodies in jungle areas in recent weeks, including some showing signs of torture, said a militia member and Myanmar’s U.N. envoy.

Since the military overthrew the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb. 1, hundreds of people have been killed as the army violently quelled protests, and in clashes between soldiers and often hastily assembled, lightly armed local militias.

The bodies were found in several different locations around Kani, a town in the Sagaing area, which has seen fierce fighting in recent months between the army and the militia groups set up by opponents of military rule.

Reuters could not independently verify the claims and a spokesman for the military did not answer calls seeking comment.

In a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Myanmar’s U.N. envoy Kyaw Moe Tun – who represents the elected civilian government – said a total of 40 bodies were found and described three different incidents during July in Kani.

Kyaw Moe Tun described the incidents as “clearly amounting to crimes against humanity,” calling on the U.N. Security Council and international community to impose a global arms embargo on Myanmar’s military.

“There is no sign of easing atrocities, killing, arrest committed by the military,” he wrote. “We demand for urgent humanitarian intervention from the international community before it is too late.”

Fighting in the Sagaing area has now mainly stopped and it was unclear if more bodies would be found, said a member of the Kani militia, who asked not to be identified.

“Most villagers in the remote area had fled to the nearby town,” he said, accusing the military and a rival pro-junta militia of carrying out reprisal killings and looting.

The militia member also put the total number of bodies so far at around 40, found on several occasions.

A military information newsletter dated July 30 said security forces had been attacked by around 100 “terrorists” with small arms near Zeepindwin village in Kani. It said soldiers had retaliated and nine bodies had been retrieved, along with hunting rifles, homemade mines and a grenade.

Security forces have killed at least 946 people since the coup, according to the Assistance Association of Political Prisoners, a Thai-based activist group. The military has disputed the tally and also said many members of the security forces have been killed.

(Reporting by Reuters Staff; Writing by Ed Davies; Editing by Kim Coghill and Jonathan Oatis)

With aid in balance, Syrians who fled Assad fear deeper hardship

By Mahmoud Hassano

IDLIB PROVINCE, Syria (Reuters) – Having fled their homes to escape President Bashar al-Assad’s rule, many of Syrians sheltering in the rebel-held northwest fear their fate may once again be placed in his hands.

Russia, Assad’s key ally, wants U.N. aid to the region to come through the capital Damascus and not via Turkey, raising fears that food on which they rely will fall under their oppressor’s control.

A U.N. mandate to supply aid from Turkey, currently via the Bab al-Hawa crossing, expires on Saturday, and while Western members of the U.N. Security Council want to extend and expand it, veto powers Russia and China are wary of renewing it.

Russia skipped negotiations on the issue on Tuesday.

Hossam Kaheil, who fled to Idlib in 2018 when the rebellion in Ghouta, just outside Damascus, was defeated, does not trust Syrian authorities to let aid through if supply lines are changed.

“In Idlib the situation is good, but if they close the crossings, there will be a humanitarian catastrophe,” said the 36-year-old, who recalls being so hungry in 2014, as the Syrian army laid siege to Ghouta, that he had to eat animal feed.

He added that two of his siblings died due to medical shortages during the siege, described by U.N. investigators as the longest in modern history.

U.N. aid across the Turkish border has helped to keep millions of Syrians supplied with food, medicine and water in the last part of Syria still held by anti-Assad insurgents.

Syria says it is committed to facilitating the delivery of U.N. aid from within the country. The Syrian information ministry did not respond to emailed questions from Reuters for this article.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said last month that the Red Cross and Red Crescent should be allowed to observe if there were suspicions of any stealing, although he did not think that would happen.

RUSSIAN LEVERAGE

The tussle marks a diplomatic front in a war that has been in military stalemate for several years, with Moscow and Damascus seeking to reassert state sovereignty over a corner of Syria outside their control.

Since winning back the bulk of Syria with Russian and Iranian help, Assad has struggled to advance further: Turkish forces block his path in the northwest, and U.S. forces are on the ground in the Kurdish-controlled east, where oilfields, farmland and land routes to Iraq are located.

Government-held Syria, along with the rest of the country, is in economic crisis. Assad’s plans for reconstruction and economic revival, which came to little, faced new headwinds with the imposition of new U.S. sanctions last year.

“This is a moment of leverage for Russia – a wrangle over strategic advantage in which humanitarian issues are being used as the fulcrum,” said Joshua Landis, head of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma.

“Unfortunately the Syrian people are the real losers in this battle between Russia and the United States.”

The United States wants the aid mandate renewed. So does Turkey, which exercises sway in the northwest through support to rebels, aid, and Turkish boots on the ground.

The United Nations has warned that failure to renew the aid operation would be devastating for millions of people.

“We don’t want to see these people becoming pawns in a political game,” said Mark Cutts, U.N. deputy regional humanitarian coordinator for the Syria crisis.

“It is really shameful that we are talking about reducing access at a time when we should be scaling up the operation.”

The number of people dependent on aid in the northwest has grown by 20% to 3.4 million in a year, the U.N. says.

MISTRUST

Russia cites U.S. sanctions as a reason for the humanitarian problems. Washington, whose sanctions aim to cut off funds for Assad’s government, rejects this.

Agreed in 2014 when Assad was in retreat, the U.N. mandate initially allowed deliveries from four locations. Russian and Chinese opposition whittled this down to one last year. Russia says the operation is outdated.

Delivering aid across frontlines has proven difficult if not impossible throughout the war.

“We’ve requested access for cross-line convoys multiple times … because we would like as much access as possible from all sides, but the war is not over,” Cutts said.

“In this kind of environment, it is very difficult to get agreement from the parties on both sides for convoys to move across that frontline.”

Insurgents in the northwest include groups proscribed as terrorists by the Security Council. U.N. oversight has prevented aid being diverted to armed groups, Cutts said, expressing concern that the loss of such oversight may deter donors.

Durmus Aydin, secretary-general of Turkey’s Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH), part of the aid operation, told Reuters that aid deliveries across frontlines did not seem possible at the moment.

“One of the reasons this isn’t a realistic solution is the mistrust in people towards the Syrian government and Russia.”

(Additional reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu in Istanbul, Tom Perry in Beirut, Andrew Osborn in Moscow and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

UN investigator says he has evidence of genocide against Iraq’s Yazidis

By Michelle Nichols

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A U.N. team investigating Islamic State crimes in Iraq has found “clear and convincing evidence that the crimes against the Yazidi people clearly constituted genocide,” the head of the inquiry said on Monday.

Karim Khan told the U.N. Security Council that the team, which started work in 2018, had also identified perpetrators “that clearly have responsibility for the crime of genocide against the Yazidi community.”

The Yazidis are a religious sect whose beliefs combine elements of several ancient Middle Eastern religions. Islamic State militants consider the Yazidis to be devil-worshippers.

Khan, a British lawyer who will next month become the International Criminal Court prosecutor, said the intent of Islamic State “to destroy the Yazidi, physically and biologically, was manifest in the ultimatum that was repeated in so many different villages in Iraq – to convert or die.”

Islamic State overran the Yazidi heartland in northern Iraq in 2014, forcing young women into servitude as “wives” for fighters, massacring thousands of people and displacing most of the 550,000-strong community. In 2016 an independent U.N. commission of inquiry described it as genocide.

Nadia Murad, an Iraqi Yazidi woman who was enslaved and raped by Islamic State, and human rights lawyer Amal Clooney lobbied the Security Council, which then created the U.N. investigative team in 2017.

They also pushed for the council to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court or create a special court.

“Evidence has been found, but we are still searching for the political will to prosecute,” Murad, who won the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war, told the Security Council on Monday.

The U.N. team has so far identified 1,444 possible perpetrators of attacks against the Yazidis.

Khan also said that from the team’s investigation into the mass killing of unarmed cadets and military personnel at Tikrit Air Academy in June 2014 “it is clear that the crime of direct and public incitement to commit genocide occurred.”

The team has identified 20 people of interest and 875 victims remains from 11 mass graves from the Tikrit attack by the Sunni extremists against Shia Muslims.

(Reporting by Michelle NicholsEditing by Chizu Nomiyama and Grant McCool)

Myanmar police fire rubber bullets, wounding three, as hundreds of thousands protest

(Reuters) – Supporters of ousted Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi clashed with police on Friday as hundreds of thousands joined nationwide pro-democracy demonstrations in defiance of the military junta’s call to halt mass gatherings.

The United Nations human rights office said more than 350 people, including officials, activists and monks, have been arrested in Myanmar since the Feb. 1 coup, including some who face criminal charges on “dubious grounds.”

The U.N. rights investigator for Myanmar told a special session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva that there were “growing reports, photographic evidence” that security forces have used live ammunition against protesters, in violation of international law.

Special Rapporteur Thomas Andrews urged the U.N. Security Council to consider imposing sanctions and arms embargoes.

Myint Thu, Myanmar’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, told the session that Myanmar did not want “to stall the nascent democratic transition in the country,” and would continue international cooperation.

Friday’s mostly peaceful protests were the biggest so far, and came a day after Washington imposed sanctions on generals who led the takeover.

Three people were wounded when police fired rubber bullets to break up a crowd of tens of thousands in the southeastern city of Mawlamyine, a Myanmar Red Cross official told Reuters.

Footage broadcast by Radio Free Asia showed police charging at protesters, grabbing one and smashing him in the head. Stones were then thrown at police before the shots were fired.

“Three got shot – one woman in the womb, one man on his cheek and one man on his arm,” said Myanmar Red Cross official Kyaw Myint, who witnessed the clash.

Several people in Mawlamyine were arrested but later released when a thousands-strong crowd stood outside the police station and demanded they be freed, according to live footage broadcast by Radio Free Asia.

A broadcast by state-run Myanmar Radio and Television (MRTV) said police had fired 10 rubber bullets because protesters were “continuing violent acts without dispersing from the area.” The report made no mention of any people being wounded.

Doctors have said they do not expect a 19-year-old woman shot during a protest in the capital Naypyitaw on Tuesday to survive. She was hit in the head with a live round fired by police, witnesses said.

In the biggest city Yangon on Friday, hundreds of doctors in white duty coats and scrubs marched past the golden Shwedagon pagoda, while in another part of town, football fans wearing team kits marched with humorous placards.

Other demonstrations took place in Naypyitaw, the coastal town of Dawei, and in Myitkyina, the capital of northern Kachin state, where young men played rap music and staged a dance-off.

Social media giant Facebook said it would cut the visibility of content run by Myanmar’s military, saying they had “continued to spread misinformation” after seizing power.

The generals have sought to justify their takeover by saying there was fraud in an election last November won by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD), a claim rejected by the country’s election committee.

In a letter read out to the U.N. rights council in Geneva, some 300 elected parliamentarians from Myanmar called on the United Nations to investigate “gross human rights violations” committed by the military since its coup.

The 47-member council later adopted a resolution calling on Myanmar to release Suu Kyi and other officials from detention and refrain from using violence on protesters. Myanmar’s envoy said before the vote that the resolution was “not acceptable”.

CALL FOR ‘MORE ACTIONS’

Supporters of the NLD welcomed the U.S. sanctions but said tougher action was needed.

“We are hoping for more actions than this as we are suffering every day and night of the military coup here in Myanmar, ” Suu Kyi supporter Moe Thal, 29, told Reuters.

Myint Thu, Myanmar’s U.N. ambassador in Geneva, told the special rights council session that his government wanted “better understanding of the prevailing situation in the country, and constructive engagement and cooperation from the international community.”

The United Nations’ Myanmar office said on Friday it was “essential that lifesaving humanitarian assistance continues unimpeded” in the country “and that humanitarian partners are given timely and safe access to the populations in need.”

Friday’s protests marked the seventh consecutive day of demonstrations, including one on Thursday outside the Chinese Embassy where NLD supporters accused Beijing of backing the junta, something Beijing has denied.

Security forces carried out more arrests overnight Thursday.

The junta remitted the sentences of more than 23,000 prisoners on Friday, saying the move was consistent with “establishing a new democratic state with peace, development and discipline” and would “please the public.”

The protests have revived memories of almost half a century of direct army rule, punctuated by bloody crackdowns, until the military began relinquishing some power in 2011.

The generals have promised to stick to the 2008 constitution and hand over power after elections. No date has yet been set for the vote.

(Reporting by Reuters staff; Writing by Matthew Tostevin, Stephen Coates, Raju Gopalakrishnan and Poppy McPherson; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Frances Kerry/Mark Heinrich)

Protests against Myanmar junta spread despite arrests

(Reuters) – Teachers and students in Myanmar rallied on Friday to a growing civil disobedience campaign as the anti-coup protest movement won the support of ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s party.

Stepping up measures to quell discontent, police arrested one of Suu Kyi’s veteran aides and dozens of people who had joined noisy demonstrations against Monday’s coup.

International pressure on the junta increased with the U.N. Security Council urging the release of detainees and Washington considering sanctions on the ruling generals.

Teachers became the latest group to join a civil disobedience campaign with some lecturers refusing to work or cooperate with authorities over the coup that halted a long and unsteady transition to democracy.

“We want the military coup to fail,” said lecturer Nwe Thazin Hlaing at the Yangon University of Education.

Reuters was unable to reach the government for comment.

The disobedience campaign, which began with doctors, has also spread to some government offices and on Friday won the formal backing of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party.

In a statement, the party denounced the coup and Suu Kyi’s detention as “unacceptable” and said it would help people who are arrested or sacked for opposing the takeover.

Army chief Min Aung Hlaing took power citing alleged irregularities in a November election that the party won in a landslide. The electoral commission has said the vote was fair.

There has been no outpouring of people onto the streets in a country with a bloody history of crackdowns on protests, but there were signs of coup opponents growing bolder – with dozens of youths parading in the southeastern city of Dawei.

COLOR RED

In the biggest city, Yangon, supporters hung red clothing, ribbons and balloons outside their homes to show support.

“We put red balloons down the whole street,” said Myint Myint Aye, 49. “This is a non-violent campaign. We want to show the dictators that all of us are with Mother Suu.”

But authorities also began to step up action against coup opponents.

In Myanmar’s second city of Mandalay, 30 people were arrested over pot-banging protests which have taken place for the last three nights.

Eleven Media quoted Maung Maung Aye, deputy head of the regional police force, as saying they were accused of breaking a law against “causing noise in public streets”.

The latest high-profile detainee was 79-year-old Win Htein, a stalwart of Suu Kyi who was repeatedly imprisoned during their decades of struggling against previous juntas.

“I have never been scared of them because I have done nothing wrong my entire life,” he told Reuters by phone as he was taken away.

Reuters was unable to reach police for comment on his arrest or what charges could be brought against him.

The 15-member U.N. Security Council released a statement on Thursday calling for the release of all detainees and for respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law.

But before it won consensus among members that include China and Russia, which have close ties to Myanmar’s army, the language of the draft was changed to remove any mention of a coup.

Nobel Peace laureate Suu Kyi, 75, has not been seen since her arrest in morning raids on Monday. Police have filed charges against her for illegally importing and using six walkie-talkie radios found at her home.

‘CREDIBLE ELECTION’

President Joe Biden said the United States was working with allies and partners to address the generals’ takeover.

“There can be no doubt in a democracy force should never seek to overrule the will of the people or attempt to erase the outcome of a credible election,” he said.

National security adviser Jake Sullivan said targeted sanctions on individuals and on entities controlled by the military were under consideration.

He spoke by phone with ambassadors from the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) regional bloc. Indonesia and Malaysia later said regional foreign ministers would be asked to hold a special meeting on the situation.

Myanmar’s generals have few overseas interests that could be targeted by sanctions, but the military has extensive business interests that could suffer if foreign partners leave.

Japanese drinks giant Kirin Holdings said on Friday it was terminating its alliance with a top Myanmar conglomerate whose owners, according to the United Nations, include members of the military. Kirin said the coup had “shaken the very foundation of the partnership”.

(Reporting by Reuters staff; Writing by Matthew Tostevin, Rosalba O’Brien and Stephen Coates; editing by Lincoln Feast, Robert Birsel, Nick Tattersall)

Suu Kyi’s party demands her release as Myanmar generals tighten grip

(Reuters) – The party of Myanmar’s detained leader Aung San Suu Kyi called on Tuesday for her immediate release and for the military junta that seized power a day earlier to recognize her victory in an election in November.

The Nobel Peace laureate’s whereabouts remained unknown more than 24 hours after her arrest in a military takeover that derailed Myanmar’s tentative progress towards full democracy.

A senior official from her National League for Democracy (NLD) said on Tuesday he had learned she was in good health and was not being moved from the location where she was being held after the coup against her government.

She was picked up in the capital Naypyidaw on Monday along with dozens of other allies but her exact whereabouts have not been made public.

“There is no plan to move Daw Aung San Su Kyi and Doctor Myo Aung. It’s learned that they are in good health,” NLD official Kyi Toe said in a Facebook post which also referred to one of her allies. An earlier post said she was at her home.

Kyi Toe also said NLD members of parliament detained during the coup were being allowed to leave the quarters where they had been held. Reuters was unable to contact him for more information.

The U.N. Security Council was due to meet later on Tuesday amid calls for a strong global response to the military’s latest seizure of power in a country blighted for decades by army rule.

The United States threatened to reimpose sanctions on the generals who seized power.

The coup followed a landslide win for Suu Kyi’s NLD in an election on Nov. 8, a result the military has refused to accept citing unsubstantiated allegations of fraud.

The army handed power to its commander, General Min Aung Hlaing, and imposed a state of emergency for a year.

Min Aung Hlaing told the first meeting of his new government on Tuesday that it was inevitable the army would have to take power after its protests over alleged election fraud last year.

“Despite the Tatmadaw’s (army) repeated requests, this path was chosen inevitably for the country. Until the next government is formed after the upcoming election, we need to steer the country,” Min Aung Hlaing was quoted as saying by army information service.

The election and fighting COVID-19 were the junta’s priorities, he said. He had earlier promised a free and fair election and a handover of power to the winner, but without giving a timeframe.

The electoral commission has dismissed the fraud claims.

The NLD’s executive committee demanded the release of all detainees “as soon as possible.”

In a post on the Facebook page of senior party official May Win Myint, the committee also called for the military to acknowledge the election results and for the new parliament to be allowed to sit. It had been due to meet on Monday for the first time since the election.

Various activist groups on Tuesday issued a flurry of messages on social media urging civil disobedience.

Suu Kyi, 75, endured about 15 years of house arrest between 1989 and 2010 as she led a democracy movement against the military, which had seized power in a 1962 coup and stamped out all dissent until her party came to power in 2015.

Her international standing as a human rights icon was badly damaged after she failed to stop the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of ethnic Rohingya Muslims in 2017 and defended the military against accusations of genocide. But she remains hugely popular at home and is revered as the daughter of Myanmar’s independence hero, Aung San.

INTERNATIONAL CONDEMNATION

U.S. President Joe Biden called the crisis a direct assault on Myanmar’s transition to democracy.

“We will work with our partners throughout the region and the world to support the restoration of democracy and the rule of law, as well as to hold accountable those responsible for overturning Burma’s democratic transition,” Biden said in a statement.

The United Nations also condemned the coup and called for the release of detainees, in comments echoed by Australia, the European Union, India and Japan as well as former colonial ruler Britain.

China did not join the condemnation, saying only that it noted the events and called on all sides to respect the constitution.

The streets of Myanmar were quiet, as they have been for weeks because of the coronavirus. Troops and riot police took up positions in Naypyitaw and the main commercial center Yangon.

By Tuesday morning, phone and internet connections were restored and banks in Yangon reopened after halting services on Monday due to poor internet connections and amid a rush to withdraw cash.

But Myanmar’s international airport in Yangon will stay closed until April or even May, its manager, Phone Myint, told Reuters. He did not say why.

“IMMEDIATE RESPONSE”

One of the first calls for specific action to oppose the coup came from the Yangon Youth Network, one of Myanmar’s biggest activist groups.

Any street protests will raise alarm in a country with a grim record of military crackdowns.

China’s state Xinhua news agency quoted a military official as saying most regional and state leaders who were detained during the takeover were released on Tuesday.

The chief minister of the Sagaing region, Myint Naing, told the BBC after his release that he had been treated well.

“I worry for the future of the nation. We hoped for the best but the worst is happening,” he said.

The coup marks the second time the military has refused to recognize a landslide election win for the NLD, having also rejected the result of 1990 polls that were meant to pave the way for multi-party government.

Following mass protests led by Buddhist monks in 2007, the generals set a course for compromise, while never relinquishing ultimate control.

The NLD came to power after the 2015 election under a constitution that guarantees the military a major role in government, including several main ministries, and an effective veto on constitutional reform.

Consolidating its position, the new junta on Monday removed 24 ministers and named 11 replacements for various portfolios including finance, defense, foreign affairs and interior.

(Reporting by Reuters staff; Writing by Stephen Coates, Robert Birsel; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Coup prompts outcry from Myanmar as West ponders how to respond

(Reuters) – Western leaders condemned the coup by Myanmar’s military against Aung San Suu Kyi’s democratically elected government and hundreds of thousands of her supporters took to the social media to voice their anger at the takeover.

The sudden turn of events in the early hours of Monday derailed years of efforts to establish democracy in the poverty-stricken country and raised more questions over the prospect of returning a million Rohingya refugees.

The U.N. Security Council will meet on Tuesday, diplomats said, amid calls for a strong response to the detention of Suu Kyi and dozens of her political allies, although Myanmar’s close ties with council member China will play into any decision.

U.S. President Joe Biden said the coup was a direct assault on Myanmar’s transition to democracy and the rule of law.

The army handed power to military chief General Min Aung Hlaing and imposed a state of emergency for a year in the country, saying it had responded to what it called election fraud.

Min Aung Hlaing, who had been nearing retirement, promised a free and fair election and a handover of power to the winning party, without giving a timeframe.

Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party, which won a landslide 83% in a Nov. 8 election, said that she called on people to protest against the military takeover, quoting comments it said were written earlier in anticipation of a coup.

But the streets were quiet overnight after troops and riot police took up positions in the capital, Naypyitaw, and the main commercial center Yangon. Phone and internet connections were disrupted.

Many in Myanmar voiced their anger on social media.

Data on Facebook showed more than 325,000 people had used the #SaveMyanmar hashtag denoting opposition to the coup, and some people changed profile pictures to black to show their sorrow or red in support of the NLD, often with a portrait of the 75-year-old Suu Kyi, the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner.

“We as a citizen of Myanmar not agree with the current move and would like to request the world leaders. UN and the world medias help our country – our leaders- our people – from this bitter acts,” said one widely reposted message.

Four youth groups condemned the coup and pledged to “stand with the people” but did not announce specific action.

Suu Kyi, President Win Myint and other NLD leaders were “taken” in the early hours of Monday morning, NLD spokesman Myo Nyunt told Reuters by phone. U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said at least 45 people had been detained.

MINISTERS REMOVED

Consolidating the coup, the junta removed 24 ministers and named 11 replacements to oversee ministries including finance, defense, foreign affairs and interior.

Banks said they would reopen on Tuesday after suspending services on Monday amid a rush to withdraw cash.

Yangon residents had rushed to stock up on supplies while foreign companies from Japanese retail giant Aeon to South Korean trading firm POSCO International and Norway’s Telenor tried to reach staff in Myanmar and assess the turmoil.

Suu Kyi’s election win followed about 15 years of house arrest between 1989 and 2010 and a long struggle against the military, which had seized power in a 1962 coup and stamped out all dissent for decades until her party came to power in 2015.

Her international standing as a human rights icon was severely damaged after she failed to stop the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas in 2017 and defended the military against accusations of genocide. But she remains hugely popular at home and is revered as the daughter of Myanmar’s independence hero, Aung San.

“BROKEN WINGS”

The coup followed days of tension between the civilian government and the military. In the pre-written statement on Facebook, Suu Kyi was quoted as saying that an army takeover would put Myanmar “back under a dictatorship.”

“I urge people not to accept this, to respond and wholeheartedly to protest against the coup by the military,” it said. Reuters was unable to reach any NLD officials to confirm the veracity of the statement.

Supporters of the military celebrated the coup, parading through Yangon in pickup trucks and waving national flags.

“Today is the day that people are happy,” one nationalist monk told a crowd in a video published on social media.

Democracy activists and NLD voters were horrified and angry. Four youth groups condemned the coup in statements and pledged to “stand with the people” but did not announce specific action.

“Our country was a bird that was just learning to fly. Now the army broke our wings,” student activist Si Thu Tun said.

Senior NLD leader Win Htein said in a Facebook post the army chief’s takeover demonstrated his ambition rather than concern for the country.

In the capital, security forces confined members of parliament to residential compounds on the day they had expected to take up their seats, representative Sai Lynn Myat said.

‘POTENTIAL FOR UNREST’

The United Nations led condemnation of the coup and calls for the release of detainees and restoration of democracy in comments largely echoed by Australia, Britain, the European Union, India, Japan and the United States.

In Washington, President Biden called on the international community to press Myanmar’s military to give up power, release detainees and refrain from violence against civilians. Those responsible for the coup would be held accountable, he said.

In Japan, a major aid donor with many businesses in Myanmar, a ruling party source said the government may have to rethink the strengthening of defense relations with the country undergone as part of regional efforts to counterbalance China.

China called on all sides in Myanmar to respect the constitution and uphold stability, but “noted” events in the country rather than expressly condemning them.

Bangladesh, which is sheltering around one million Rohingya who fled violence in Myanmar, called for “peace and stability” and said it hoped a process to repatriate the refugees could move forward. Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh also condemned the takeover.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations, of which Myanmar is a member, called for “dialogue, reconciliation and the return to normalcy” while in Bangkok, police clashed with a group of pro-democracy demonstrators outside Myanmar’s embassy.

“It’s their internal affair,” a Thai government official said – a hands-off approach also taken by Malaysia and the Philippines.

The November vote faced some criticism in the West for disenfranchising many Rohingya but the election commission rejected military complaints of fraud.

In its statement declaring the emergency, the military cited the failure of the commission to address complaints over voter lists, its refusal to postpone new parliamentary sessions, and protests by groups unhappy with the vote.

(Reporting by Reuters staff; writing by Matthew Tostevin and Philippa Fletcher; editing by Angus MacSwan)